Investing in Natural Infrastructure

Healthy ecosystems provide the same services and benefits as man-made infrastructure at lower cost.

The Problem: Infrastructure spending amounts to roughly 3.8% of global GDP, equivalent to US$2.6 trillion in 2013, and needs will grow to US$3.4 trillion per year through 2030.

The Solution: Natural infrastructure (NI), in many cases, can provide the same services and benefits as man-made infrastructure and at a lower cost. A well-functioning ecosystem can deliver the equivalent water availability and filtration, flood control and shoreline protection as a major physical infrastructure project. Indeed, investing in ecosystems is often cost-competitive with man-made infrastructure investments for equivalent services.

The Business Case

  • NI investment is cost-competitive. Investing in natural infrastructure is often cost-competitive with “gray infrastructure” investments. For example, on one of Dow Chemical’s sites, an industrial wastewater treatment plant would cost $40 million, but a 110-acre engineered wetland providing the same filtration services would only cost $1.4 million. That’s over 95% cheaper for the same benefit.
  • It appreciates. Natural infrastructure appreciates over time as the ecosystem evolves and becomes richer and 
more resilient, whereas gray infrastructure degrades over time, inevitably requiring repair or replacement in 
30-50 years.
  • It’s cheaper to prevent than to cure. Mangroves and coral reefs can protect the shoreline from storm surges or erosion, acting as sea walls or levees to protect communities and corporate sites located on the coast. This service is worth billions of dollars annually in terms of avoided damage and replacement costs.
  • It fits into a “no regrets” climate adaptation approach. While natural infrastructure can safeguard against a wide range of climate impacts, it makes sense anyway given its financial viability and multiple co-benefits for communities.
  • It’s flexible. This is a cross-industry, cost-effective solution, which can be applied at a specific site, region or 
value chain.
  • It’s been done before—successfully. One of several examples is in the 1980s, Vittel (Nestle Waters) successfully worked with upstream farmers to improve watershed health and protect water supply in France.



Establish a multi-stakeholder group on natural capital comprising companies and key NGOs to invest in the protection and restoration of natural ecosystems, and to demonstrate the many business benefits of doing so, by 2020.

Years 1 and 2

Lay the foundation for the initiative up until 2020, and conduct corporate NI scoping assessments.

Years 3 and 4

Implement NI demonstration projects, disseminate tools for evaluating & investing in NI, and recruit more
companies to the initiative.

Years 5 and 6

Continue to support on-the-ground efforts, track progress and conduct outreach to scale up natural infrastructure investments.


  • Partnerships. Partnerships with organizations and governments with existing interests and competencies in NI.

  • Policy. To scale NI, policymakers should develop structures that catalyze business investment in natural infrastructure.


Practice and performance metrics

  • Number of companies routinely including natural infrastructure in their decision making.

  • Number of hectares under improved management, protection or restoration.

  • Amount invested in natural infrastructure projects.

  • Amount saved by investing in natural infrastructure instead of man-made infrastructure.

  • Outcomes such as quality of water or improved shoreline protection.

Relevant priority areas

Jointly developed with: